Top 10 Eric Clapton Solo Songs
Eric Clapton, as the title of his 1989 album spells out, has been one of rock’s busiest journeymen since the early-’60s, when he helped form the Yardbirds. Throughout his 50-year career, the ace guitarist has done time with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Cream, Blind Faith, John Lennon‘s Plastic Ono Band and Derek and the Dominos, among others. Since the early ’70s, he’s mostly focused on releasing records under his own name. Our list of the Top 10 Eric Clapton Solo Songs starts in 1970 with his very first solo LP.
‘Tears in Heaven’
Yes, it’s super-sappy, but ‘Tears in Heaven’ reignited Clapton’s stalled career in the early ’90s. While his records in the ’80s received a fair amount of rock radio airplay, Top 40 stations mostly stayed away. ‘Tears in Heaven’ became his biggest hit since 1974’s ‘I Shot the Sherrif’ (see No. 3 on our list of the Top 10 Eric Clapton Solo Songs). And it came from a very real place, inspired by the death of Clapton’s four-year-old son.
The opening track on Clapton’s first No. 1 album, and one of his best, comes from a 19th-century slave spiritual. Clapton arranged the traditional song into a shuffling slide-guitar feast, with plenty of twists and turns along the way. ‘Motherless Children’ remains one of his most virtuosic solo recordings, an onslaught of instruments and speed.
‘I Can’t Stand It’
Even though its title implies otherwise, ‘Another Ticket’ isn’t a live album. It’s Clapton’s seventh solo album, a nine-song studio set featuring the usual mix of originals and blues covers. ‘I Can’t Stand It’ just reached the Top 10, but more notably, it was the first song to top Billboard’s new Rock Airplay chart, staying there for two weeks.
‘Let It Grow’
Clapton had a soft spot long before ‘Tears in Heaven’ (see No. 10 on our list of the Top 10 Eric Clapton Solo Songs). This love song is one of only two cuts he penned on his second album. But its unhurried pace and quiet, reflective tone suit Clapton, who had just kicked his nasty heroin habit when he made ‘461 Ocean Boulevard.’
‘Let It Rain’
Clapton and pal George Harrison fed off each other quite a bit in the late ’60s (Clapton played on the Beatles‘ ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps,’ Harrison played on Cream’s ‘Badge’). This song from Clapton’s debut solo album sounds like a Harrison composition, but in fact was written by Clapton with Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett.
‘Further on Up the Road’
Clapton’s various addictions sidelined him in the early part of the ’70s. He’d finally kicked the worst of them by the time he began working on 1974’s ‘461 Ocean Boulevard’ and mounting his first tour in four years in support of the album. The resulting 1975 live album ‘E.C. Was Here’ gathers six songs, all but one of them covers. The best is his ferocious take on this 1957 bluesy R&B song originally recorded by Bobby “Blue” Bland.
This favorite from Clapton’s debut solo album (penned by Clapton and Leon Russell) gains some muscle onstage, but this studio version — played by studio pros like Russell and Derek and the Dominos drummer Jim Gordon — sizzles with the laid-back energy that was prevalent in so many early-’70s recordings.
‘I Shot the Sheriff’
Clapton’s hit cover of Bob Marley’s reggae classic is criticized for watering down the original’s ruthless spirit, but it’s a pretty faithful version. There weren’t too many people familiar with reggae in 1974, and Clapton introduced the music to a ton of people with his soulful interpretation. It became his only No. 1 single, and also helped send Clapton’s second solo album to the top of the chart.
Like ‘Blues Power,’ also from his solo debut (see No. 4 on our list of the Top 10 Eric Clapton Solo Songs), ‘After Midnight’ features a casual bluesy shuffle pulled along by a great backing band. Oklahoma boogie rocker J.J. Cale (who also wrote ‘Cocaine’) penned ‘After Midnight’ in 1966. But Clapton’s version, his first solo single, is the one everyone knows.
Clapton’s best solo album features a pair of hit singles: ‘Lay Down Sally’ and ‘Wonderful Tonight,’ both bubbling somewhere below our list of the Top 10 Eric Clapton Solo Songs. ‘Cocaine’ isn’t one of them; it wasn’t released as a single until 1980’s live version from ‘Just One Night.’ But it’s become one of Clapton’s most popular songs anyway, thanks to tons of classic-rock airplay over the years. Like he did with another J.J. Cale song, ‘After Midnight,’ Clapton takes complete control of ‘Cocaine.’